1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
There is an element to memory that really sucks. Every pleasant memory about our friends or loved ones is offset by the painful remembrance of a lost lover. Eternal Sunshine is about the pain of memory, but it reminds us of an all too cliché musing—regardless of the pain memory may cause, it still is memory, and we would rather remember the good and the bad than forget it all. Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman combined to create a weirdly beautiful masterpiece, and one that stands as the best movie of the aughts.
2. Almost Famous
Every time I mention this movie, I get sneers. People hate this movie. And why not? It’s got Kate Hudson, Jimmy Fallon, and it talks about some fictional band in the lame rock decade of the 1970s. But you know what? I don’t care; Almost Famous is a beautiful coming of age tale in an era in which rock lost it’s way. Everything from the effortless soundtrack to the perennially underrated ‘plane crash’ scene reminds us that, even if rock n’ roll is an idealized world, we would never want to live in it.
For me, the biggest strength of Wall-E isn’t the strikingly poignant first act, in which there is no dialogue, only the development of our garbage-compacting protagonist. No, the beautiful highlight of Pixar’s masterpiece is instead the most beautiful love story told of this decade. Like Charlie Chaplin in City Lights, both Wall-E and Eve work past their mechanical limitations to reach a refreshingly unique take on a dystopian world—robots have feelings too.
4. The Royal Tenenbaums
A lot of critics point to JD Salinger’s work as a forebear of Wes Anderson’s strongest work. But the fact remains that while Salinger may have created individual social tragedy-come triumph, Anderson weaves together a beautiful story about an entire family searching for their purpose in a world that has left them behind. With pitch-perfect set design and terrific performances from Gwyneth Paltrow and Luke Wilson, Anderson’s film stands as the pinnacle of family drama.
5. There Will Be Blood
Two people make this movie what it is: Daniel Day Lewis and Jonny Greenwood. Day Lewis, standing as the most talented and versatile actor of his generation, manages to make a watchable movie out of the paradigm of American greed and evil. Daniel Plainview is the evil we all want to avoid about America, but somehow Day Lewis enthralled us. And Greenwood, the Radiohead guitarist, composed a harrowing score that only heightened the epic performance of the movie’s leading man.
6. Super Size Me
Morgan Spurlock parlayed the success of this documentary into a TV show that is actually pretty interesting, and you know why? Spurlock throws himself headlong into the problems his documentaries confront. McDonalds may be an easy target, but gorging yourself on the food is not. Plus, who will ever forget Spurlock’s inaugural McD’s meal, which he chows down and then promptly vomits back up? I know I won’t.
7. Mulholland Drive
It is a testament to David Lynch’s weirdo mind that he could turn a satirical TV pilot about a struggling actress into a visceral, metaphysical critique of the entire movie industry. Almost every turn throws a red herring at you, and you are left scouring the message boards trying to interpret the movie the way Lynch wants you to. A movie this mind-bogglingly confusing has never been so captivating.
Chris Nolan arguably had the best decade of any director: Insomnia, Memento, The Prestige, and The Dark Knight all stand as strong candidates for any Aught Best of List. But Memento makes mine simply because of the excellence of its story structure. Sure, it moves backwards, but it also tells a forward moving story. Nolan managed to avoid plot problems and metaphysical issues with a man who lost his memory after a mysteriously brutal incident of family violence, instead turning the confusing plot into a parable that stands at the opposite of Eternal Sunshine—do we really want to know what we can’t remember?
9. Lost in Translation
Another movie on my list that I’ve had numerous arguments about, I think that Lost In Translation cemented Bill Murray’s legacy as a terrific actor, always funny but at the same time poignant. The movie’s tone is luminous and spacious, with Scarlett Johannson and Murray providing the necessary mid-twenties and mid-forties angst that director/writer Sofia Coppola was looking for.
10. The 40-Year Old Virgin
The only non-serious movie on my list, The 40 Year-Old Virgin stands as lowbrow comedy’s official arrival in the spotlight, and it did so as a startlingly resonant story about a man who really just wants to find love. Couple that with breakouts for Paul Rudd, Seth Rogen and Steve Carell, and you too often forget how great jokes about Coldplay were.